By Bishop Edward C. Malesic, Catholic News Service
What is our common mission as baptized Catholic Christians? It is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In his great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks all of us to be missionary disciples.
Sometimes we Catholics mistakenly separate discipleship from missionary activity. We can think that being a faithful Catholic is to follow Jesus, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to keep his commandments, to study his Word, and to strive for personal holiness, but that missionary activity should be left to the formally trained experts like priests, religious and lay ecclesial ministers. In “The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), Pope Francis corrects this sort of thinking. He writes:
“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary disciple to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ; we no longer say we that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples.'” (EG, 120)
The Holy Father’s message is simple. Disciples beget disciples. At the end of every Mass, after we have acknowledged our sins, listened to God’s word, and feasted on the body and blood of Jesus, we are sent out into the world as missionary disciples — all of the baptized are sent. The priest or deacon doesn’t say only to a select few, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or only to the clergy and religious, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”; no, he says it to everyone.
Just as the work of the priest is to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass, so too is it the work of every baptized Christian at the end of every Mass to go and consecrate the world to Christ wherever they live and move and have their being. A synodal Church is one in which all the members become salt, light and leaven, walking together to bring Jesus outside the walls of our Church buildings. Here’s how the Second Vatican Council explains this foundational call:
“The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.” (“Lumen Gentium,” 31)
The Synod on Synodality is calling us as a Church to evaluate how we are acting as missionary disciples. How do we as individuals assist the mission of the Church to make Jesus more accessible to others?
We can ask some questions of ourselves. Do I really believe that I have a responsibility in bringing him into the world in which we live, work, play and study? Have I told the story of how, where and when I have encountered the Risen Lord and shared my witness of the way Jesus has changed my lives? Do I believe that I have been sent into the world by Jesus to transform it by his Gospel of eternal life and love? Have I truly answered his call to be a missionary disciple?
Pope Francis writes, “The Church herself is a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth.” (EG, 40) May our participation in the synodal process encourage great growth and maturity in all of her members, so that we can serve the world with joy as believers sent out with a life-giving message. As men and women gifted with the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, let us all be bold witnesses of Jesus Christ.